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Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power Plant Construction Approved

solar thermal power plant
When completed, Ivanpah will nearly double the amount of solar thermal electricity produced in the U.S.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved the construction of BrightSource Energy, Inc..’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. The approval brings BrightSource, a developer of utility-scale solar thermal power plants, one major step closer to commencing construction of the 370 nominal (392 gross) megawatt project. When constructed, Ivanpah will nearly double the amount of solar thermal electricity produced in the United States today.

“We’re thankful for the Commission’s approval of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, and for the thorough review it has received from state and federal agencies,” said John Woolard, president and CEO of BrightSource Energy. “With the PG&E and Southern California Edison contracts, a conditional US Department of Energy loan guarantee and CEC permit, the Ivanpah project is uniquely positioned to make a meaningful contribution to the world-leading renewable energy standards Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature have established for the state, and to bring good jobs to the California’s High Desert community. We look forward to commencing construction on Ivanpah and setting a model for environmentally-responsible utility- scale solar projects.”

The Ivanpah project is also being reviewed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM is expected to issue its final Record of Decision in the coming weeks. BrightSource expects to have all of the necessary permits to commence construction in fall 2010.

During his weekly address to the nation, President Obama highlighted BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System as an example of how the clean energy incentives launched by the administration are creating good jobs and helping the nation achieve its clean energy goals. According to the President:

“This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It’s going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it’s complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes – the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California.”

“With projects like this one, and others across this country, we are staking our claim to continued leadership in the new global economy. And we’re putting Americans to work producing clean, home-grown American energy that will help lower our reliance on foreign oil and protect our planet for future generations.”

In February 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded BrightSource Energy $1.37 billion in conditional loan guarantees to support the financing of the Ivanpah project.

The Ivanpah project, located in southeastern California, consists of three separate solar thermal power plants. When constructed, the project will:

  • produce enough clean energy to power 140,000 homes
  • reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 400,000 tons annually, the equivalent of taking more than 70,000 cars off the road
  • create more than 1,000 local union jobs at the peak of construction
  • provide $650 million in employee wages over its first 30-year life

BrightSource and Bechtel, the engineering and construction contractor for the Ivanpah project, estimate that construction of the Ivanpah project will require approximately four million job hours of work and 1,000 union jobs at the peak of construction. In December 2009, Bechtel signed a project labor agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC) and the Building & Construction Trades Council of San Bernardino and Riverside counties to ensure that California’s local workforce benefits from the project. The project will also provide $300 million in local and state tax revenues, and produce $650 million in wages, over its first 30-year life.

“We are very pleased that the California Energy Commission has moved the Ivanpah solar project one step closer to reality,” said Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “These good paying, high skill, green jobs are exactly what California needs to jumpstart our economy.”

The power generated from the Ivanpah solar plants will be sold under separate contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). PG&E will purchase approximately two-thirds of the power generated at Ivanpah and SCE will purchase approximately one-third. In all, BrightSource has contracted with PG&E and SCE to deliver more than 2,600 megawatts of electric power from fourteen solar power plants.

The Ivanpah project is also setting a higher bar when it comes to environmental design. Instead of the extensive land grading and concrete pads employed by other competing solar technologies, BrightSource mounts mirrors on individual poles that are placed directly into the ground, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and co-exist with vegetation.

In order to conserve precious desert water, the Ivanpah project will employ an air-cooling system to convert the steam back into water in a closed-loop cycle. By using air-cooling, the project will use only 100 acre feet of water per year, approximately 95 percent less water than competing solar thermal technologies that use wet-cooling.

“Large-scale solar technologies provide one of our best hopes for solving the problem of global climate change,” said Amy Davidsen, U.S. Director of The Climate Group. “To meet this potential, we need to scale up the use of these technologies as soon as possible. Today’s decision to approve the Ivanpah project represents a significant step toward the realization of this goal.”

BrightSource Energy, Inc. provides clean, reliable and low cost solar energy for utility and industrial companies worldwide. The BrightSource Energy team combines nearly three decades of experience designing, building and operating the world’s largest solar energy plants with world-class project development capabilities. The company now has contracted to sell 2610 megawatts of power to be generated using its proprietary solar thermal technology. BrightSource Energy’s solar plants are designed to minimize their impact on the environment and help customers reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Headquartered in Oakland, California, BrightSource Energy is a privately held company with operations in the United States, Israel, and Australia.

Read Large-Scale Solar Power Systems: Construction and Economics from Amazon.

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